Boiler Room Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

Anybody who says money isn't everything doesn't have any.

Boiler Room logo

In "Boiler Room", the film's narrator and protagonist, a college dropout by the name of Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi of "The Mod Squad"), likens the business of buying and selling shares to the illicit drug trade. Like the crack dealers on the streets, stockbrokers prey on the intoxicating get-rich-quick fantasies of their clients, in a business where the few that get rich do so by victimizing those least able to afford it.

You become an employee at this firm, you will make your first million within three years. I'm going to repeat that-- you will make a million dollars within three years.

Giovanni Ribisi

In Seth's case, a chance meeting with an old friend (Jaime Kennedy, the 'movie guy' in the "Scream" trilogy) brings him into the fold of a small boutique-type investment house named J.T. Marlin. He attends a group interview where the firm's head recruiter Jim (Ben Affleck of "Dogma") delivers a stirring and forceful sales pitch to the room of would-be stockbrokers-- work for J.T. Marlin, and 'you will make your first million within three years'. Spurred on by visions of getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari, and the hope of redeeming himself in the eyes of his father, a federal judge (Ron Rifkin of "The Negotiator") who has all but given up on his wayward son, Seth joins the firm, oblivious to its predatory and frankly illegal practices.

They say money can't buy happiness? Look at the smile on my face... ear to ear, baby!

Ben Affleck and Ribisi

Seth quickly finds his stride at his new job, working under the tutelage of the firm's senior brokers, who include the sharply-dressed Chris (Vin Diesel, who also appears in "Pitch Black" this week), the narcissistic Greg (Nicky Katt of "One True Thing"), and the charismatic head of the firm, Michael (Tom Everett Scott of "That Thing You Do"). He becomes indoctrinated with the firm's 'take no prisoners' philosophy, which takes its cues from Gordon Gecko of "Wall Street", and Alec Baldwin's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross". Very soon, Seth becomes a pro at the firm's high-pressure sales tactics, selling stocks to 'whales', well-heeled investors lacking the brains to say 'no' to a silvery-tongued pitchman on the telephone. Seth also begins a relationship with the firm's secretary Abby (Nia Long of "The Best Man"), much to the annoyance of Greg, who still sees Abby as 'his own property'. Seth is on top of the world.

You have to be closing all the time! Be aggressive!

Vin Diesel takes center stage

Unfortunately, the house of cards is about to take a tumble. After Seth's curiosity gets the better of him, he uncovers the truth about the numerous stocks sold by the firm, and realizes that J.T. Marlin is no more than an elaborate 'boiler room' operation. Even though Seth is no stranger to backroom scams (he used to run a highly-profitable yet illegal card game out of his home), this revelation leads to a crisis of conscience. Seth reasons that, as opposed to his previous illicit dealings, as a broker in this 'chop shop', he is offering his customers something they don't want and can ill afford. Unfortunately, this is the least of his worries, as elements in law enforcement are equally aware of the truth about J.T. Marlin, and are moving in for the kill...

I am your kid's college fund!

Ribisi and Nia Long

First time writer/director Ben Younger permeates his film with a not-so-subtle analogy between the brokering of stocks and the dealing of drugs. From the gangsta rap sounds on the film's soundtrack, to the mob-like rivalries between J.T. Marlin brokers and other firms, to the flashy excesses of women and expensive cars, Younger presents the selling of stocks as 'crack cocaine for the white man', and equates J.T. Marlin to a street gang hustling for action on a street corner. With the help of deceptive sales tactics, including some aimed at encouraging first-time trial from new clients, hotshot brokers like Chris and Greg get their clients hooked small trades, and promptly escalate them to higher and higher doses.

Like a drug-induced high, "Boiler Room" is an energetic film, barreling through its two-hour running time with snappy dialogue and breakneck pacing. There isn't a moment that seems unnecessary or slow in this film, which ironically is a detriment at the films conclusion, since the audience has been bombarded with detail about the minutiae of the brokering business with barely chance to catch its breath. As a result, the ending is sudden and almost jarring as a result of the incredible ride preceding it.

Relationship? What relationship? I'm not your girlfriend. Relationships are your mother's shtick... I'm your father!

"Boiler Room" is also a film of memorable performances, and there is scarcely a bad one to be found here. Ribisi finds his strongest role yet, playing a small-time crook who begins to understand how there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Ribisi also plays well off Rifkin, and the estranged relationship between father and son provides a much-needed emotional anchor to the proceedings and increases the emotional resonance of the film's climax. In fact, two of the film's most riveting scenes in the first half of the film feature both these actors, one being a family dinner gone awry, and the other being a coffee shop meeting that ends just as badly. Diesel, who was effective as Private Caparzo in "Saving Private Ryan", plays a confident and appealing senior broker who is too blinded by ambition to read the writing on the wall. And as the firm's recruiter, Affleck is a lot of fun to watch with a bold and gutsy performance that is comparable to Tom Cruise's tour de force in "Magnolia".

It may be premature to be making such declarations so early in the year, but "Boiler Room" would be a strong candidate for being one of the top ten films of 2000. I can't think of any good reasons why I wouldn't recommend this film-- with some great performances, an insightful and engaging script, and snappy execution, "Boiler Room" is one hot stock to watch.

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema. All rights reserved.


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